Romeo Spike: For the Cause
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Reviewed by Neil Carver
The opening seconds of "Spaceman" offer a quick, jazzy, up-tempo electronic beat that hooks the listener with the promise of something more interesting to come. Unfortunately, that something never materializes on Romeo Spike’s debut album… and there are a number of reasons why.
To start at the beginning, band members Mike and Donn embarked upon a long-distance collaboration that resulted in Mike moving from Chicago to Atlanta to create the band Romeo Spike. This cross-pollination of alt pop and southern rock is in evidence throughout For the Cause; it just never coalesces into anything even remotely memorable.
The album opens with "Spaceman," which tries to be an up-tempo piece, but seems to have forgotten the "up" part. The lyrics are bland and Mike Kunz’s vocals are solid, but passionless… and it sets the tone for the entire album. The Killers just released their own "Spaceman" in late 2008, with equally absurd lyrics, but the dynamic energy of that song and album are nowhere in evidence here.
After the leadoff track abruptly ends, the second song (and traditional "power" track) turns out to be a quiet and uninspired Coldplay pastiche. Kunz can eerily capture the inflection and tone of the famous Chris Martin, but he sounds like Chris when he’s half asleep, and throughout the album, he never quite wakes up. Nor does the music have the anthemic power of even the least of Coldplay or their thousands of imitators.
It just gets stranger after that. Track three begins with an enervated Bon Scott shriek and a guitar riff stiffer than a corpse. The blues-ish "Laserbeams" then meanders around an uninspired beat and a few Bowie-esque refrains, going nowhere for four minutes.
You start to get the picture. For the Cause is an album full of influences, but lacks any cohesion or even the hint of original meaning. Every song seems to show the accomplished musicianship of the band, without a shred of emotion, personal vision or songcraft. They have the talent, but lack anything interesting to say at all. "Cocaine Skinny" is their bad-boy song about a cocaine dealer who tempts all the ladies, but with lines like "What’s a sinful pleasure when the pleasure is sin," it comes across like the work of someone who did a book report on Iceberg Slim and then wrote a song about it.
The end of the disc tries for some redemption. After a few southern-tinged easy listening tunes that make Hootie and the Blowfish seem edgy, they finish up with another change of sound. "It’s Only Real" gives us a shot of the jazzy, smoky blues croon that Love & Money epitomized on their classic Strange Kind of Love. It is here that the real potential of Romeo Spike comes to the fore, with Kunz delivering something of a gutsy performance that’s enhanced by Aaron’s pedal steel. Even the final song, "Yesterday’s News" hints at some actual depth and emotion, but it’s too little, too late to save this utterly unconvincing debut. Even after multiple listens, you’re left with only the refrain of "Seasick" running through your head: "We don’t try, we don’t try, we don’t try."